Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola

“We made the revolution, not Mao”

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie is based on more than a decade of Anders Lustgarten’s intensive studies into China and it shows. The play is undoubtedly well-constructed and shines a light on an area that is persistently underexplored by British theatre but with so much information and insight at his fingertips, the playwright doesn’t resist the temptation to share as much of it as he can and it makes for a slightly frustrating experience.

So we get a thorough examination of modern Chinese history through the prism of a small village from Rotten Peach. There, the rise of Chairman Mao and the founding of the People’s Republic utterly transforms the landscape in 10 brutal years but we only get a certain amount of a dramatic rendering of how this upheaval affects the social fabric of the lives of the villagers, too much time is taken up with exposition and explanation, political theory by stealth and thus lacking in theatrical thrill. Continue reading “Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola”

Review: P’yongyang, Finborough

“Those stories…they’re not for us. Why dream about something that can’t be?”

You know how it is, you wait for a play about North Korea and two come along at once. But where Mia Ching’s You For Me For You used an absurdist approach to explore the impact of the Kim regime on individuals (and by extension, whole swathes of its population), In-Sook Chappell uses the frame of a classic thwarted love story, stretching over nearly three decades, to examine what life might be like in the harsh realities of the Communist state in P’yongyang.

When we first meet them, Anna Leong Brophy’s Yeon Eun Mi and Chris Lew Kum Hoi’s Park Chi Soo are schoolmates with a shared passion for cinema and soon enough, each other. They both dream of attending prestigious film classes in the capital P’yongyang but the revelation that Chi Soo’s father was born in the South demarcates him as lower-born in the strict rules of their society and thus their lives are set on radically different paths. Continue reading “Review: P’yongyang, Finborough”

Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“It is as if we find ourselves at the beginning of time…”

It may be Shakespeare’s Globe but it is Richard Bean’s when it comes to new writing at this venue and he returns once again with a Globe, Out of Joint and Chichester Festival Theatre co-production about the island colony of Pitcairn which was set up by Fletcher Christian in the wake of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Playing with the ideas of revolutionary freedom that were burning so fiercely on the other side of the globe, Christian dreamed of creating an Utopian ideal out of the sailors who left with him and a group of Polynesian men and women but perhaps unsurprisingly, little that was ideal came out of it.

Little that is ideal comes out of this play either. Bean throws in a number of interesting ideas into his Pitcairn – the power struggles between comrades, the jealousies that come out of the supposed liberation of sexual freedom, the culture clash that arises out of the enduring adherence to the Tahitian tradition of utmost respect for hierarchy. But it all adds up to very little and Bean has also incorporated some dodgier elements especially when it comes to the cringe-worthy expression of that sexual freedom, the constant reliance of embarrassingly dated notions of the ‘natives’ (let’s dance!) and audience participation that doesn’t really fly. Continue reading “Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe”